Editorials

Editorial: Why did Cal Poly not act sooner?

The sexual harassment allegations leveled against former Cal Poly women’s volleyball coach Jon Stevenson are disturbing enough; that university administrators knew of these outrageous charges for more than a year, yet allowed Stevenson to remain on the job, is unconscionable.

If Cal Poly had truly been concerned about the welfare of student athletes — as Provost Bob Koob recently told The Tribune — it would have terminated Stevenson’s contract back in April 2010, following release of a damning investigative report from two Cal Poly administrators.

According to that investigation, playing for Stevenson was a “stressful, demoralizing, even traumatic experience.”

What parent would want a daughter to play under such hellish conditions?

And what parent wouldn’t wonder whether this was an isolated case, or a more widespread problem?

New athletic director Don Oberhelman deserves credit for replacing Stevenson. That’s an encouraging sign of leadership, but it will take more to restore confidence in the university’s ability to take swift and appropriate action in such cases.

For a start, there should be a thorough review of reporting procedures, because according to testimony in this case, it appears initial complaints about Stevenson were largely ignored.

Players told investigators “that there had been many complaints to her (former athletic director Alison Cone) from both players and parents, with no visible results.”

When an investigation eventually was conducted, it stopped short of declaring that sexual harassment occurred — something we find odd, given the preponderance of evidence — but it did find it “more likely than not” that the incidents occurred.

The allegations included inappropriate hugging and kissing of players; comments about players’ bodies; inviting players to dinners, runs on the beach and hikes; an attempt to pull down one player’s pants; crude sexual references; and a derogatory comment about Latinas.

In addition to the sexual harassment allegations, there also were claims of draconian coaching methods that included a “zero tolerance” policy for missing practice even for illness or injury; threats about hiring a private investigator to follow the players; and attempts to pry into players’ personal lives and pump them for information about their teammates.

Any one of these allegations should have been cause for alarm; taken together, they should have been a huge red flag.

Yet acting on Cone’s recommendations, the university reacted as though these were no more than minor transgressions.

Stevenson was allowed to remain on the job as long as he abided by certain conditions. One condition was that he not discuss “dating or sex lives” with team members; another was that he attend a sexual harassment training course.

That’s not even a slap on the wrist.

Equally appalling, in exchange for Stevenson’s acceptance of the conditions, the university agreed that it would not place the investigative report in his personnel file.

Not only was Cal Poly continuing to put its own students in harm’s way, it also was making sure that no future employer would learn about his history.

Again, we’re heartened by the decision to replace Stevenson, but for the sake of Cal Poly volleyball players, the university should have acted much sooner.

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